15:57, March 10 422 0 theguardian.com

2017-03-10 15:57:06
Judge accused of victim-blaming during sentencing comments in rape case

A judge has been criticised for suggesting that, while the blame rests solely with the perpetrator, women need to protect themselves against the threat of being raped while drunk.

Campaigners accused Lindsey Kushner QC, who made the comments as she delivered her final sentencing remarks before retiring on Friday, of blaming victims.

Kushner told Manchester crown court that women should be free to do whatever they wanted without the risk of being attacked. But, she said, they should still be aware that some people are likely to see them as easier targets when they are drunk.

“We judges who see one sexual offence trial after another, have often been criticised for suggesting and putting more emphasis on what girls should and shouldn’t do than on the act and the blame to be apportioned to rapists,” she said, while sentencing a man to six years for raping a girl who was drunk.

“There is absolutely no excuse and a woman can do with her body what she wants and a man will have to adjust his behaviour accordingly. But, as a woman judge, I think it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention one or two things.

“I don’t think it’s wrong for a judge to beg women to take actions to protect themselves. That must not put responsibility on them rather than the perpetrator. How I see it is burglars are out there and nobody says burglars are OK but we do say: ‘Please don’t leave your back door open at night, take steps to protect yourselves’.

“It should not be like that but it does happen and we see it time and time again.”

She added: “They are entitled to do what they like but please be aware there are men out there who gravitate towards a woman who might be more vulnerable than others. That’s my final line, in my final criminal trial, and my final sentence.”

The campaign group End Violence Against Women condemned the comments. “When judges basically blame victims for rape – by suggesting how much alcohol a woman drinks or what she wears is part of what causes rape – we remove the responsibility from the man who did it. That is really alarming.”

A spokesperson for the group said the judge’s comments were “exactly the kind of thing that deters women from reporting assaults. Women understandably think that they will not be believed, or will be blamed for their own attack if they’ve had a drink.

“This judge should set a tone much higher than the victim-blaming attitudes which support and perpetuate violence against women.”

The group pointed out that women already take steps as a matter of routine. “They leave early, get taxis instead of buses, don’t wear ‘that’ top or ‘that’ skirt and they still get raped.”

The spokesperson said the comments from someone in such an influential position were tantamount to “telling women that they won’t be believed, that they just need to do more ‘safety work’, that they just need to do more to avoid perpetrators”, adding: “Just because it’s carefully framed and more subtle, at the end of the day It’s still victim blaming, it’s insidious and it isn’t on.”

Kushner was presiding over the trial of 19-year-old Rodrigues Gomes, who was convicted of raping a woman on a canal bank in Manchester. The judge told Gomes it was “up to any woman to decide what she wants to do with her own body”.